Track & Field Teams Building Culture Of Success
All-American Eric Finan

June 30, 2011

By Mario Cannon

The 2011 University of Cincinnati's men's and women's track and field outdoor season was filled with championships and great accomplishments. Overall both teams accumulated a total of three All-Americans, three BIG EAST champions, one Junior National qualifier, 16 NCAA First Round qualifiers, and three NCAA Final round qualifiers.

In a sport filled with individual accolades and praise, a team showed up for competition giving all they had. Countless injuries caused athletes to step into new, needed roles and events, while others had to maintain theirs. Sophomore Shanay Portis from the women's team is a great example of a person who became the second-best sprinter on the team and was expected to be mainly a long jumper before the 2011 outdoor season began, until she sprained her foot jumping during the indoor season. Chase VanCura is another person who took on needed roles, as a specialist in the 400 meter dash, but always dependable for the 200 meter dash, 4x100 and 4x400 meter relays.

The women's team was filled with talent that lived up to its overall potential. UC women's head coach Susan Seaton credits the season's performance to the coaching staff's reevaluation of the team during the 2010 summer.

"The overall theme was, we are better than this," Seaton said.

Heading into the 2011 season, an attitude adjustment was made amongst the coaches and returning athletes, which raised the level of expectation. The women's team in particular had an outstanding freshmen class, with the likes of Mary Bridges, the Junior National Championship qualifier, and Frida Akerstrom, who scored points in two individual events at the BIG EAST Championship.



"They came into an environment where everyone decided to push for their best and try to achieve," Seaton said.

Overall, Seaton was satisfied with her team's performance in 2011.

"I think we had a great season," Seaton said proudly of the women's team. "If you look at the statistics, (it was) our best season in the school's history. We finished the highest spot in the conference we ever have, indoor and outdoor. We were able to be sixth (in both) and were very close to breaking into the top-five in the conference. We had a number of people finish in the top-three." Like the women, the UC men exceeded expectations as well.

"We really had quite a good season," longtime head coach Bill Schnier said. "We won the Early Bird Relays and the Oliver Nikoloff Invitational. The All-Ohio Championship was disappointing (when) we placed fourth. We've done better than that. Sixth in the BIG EAST was a good accomplishment this year. The fact that we qualified five for the NCAA First Round showed individual talent and the fact that we had two All-Americans, Terence Somerville and Eric Finan says we had stand outs nationally."

Each team had several phenomenal standout athletes. "There's no question highlights had a lot do with Eric and Terence," Schnier said. "Not completely, but those guys are amazing."

Somerville, the hurdler who was once ranked fifth in the world in the indoor 60 meter hurdles, was a huge attribute to the team running times that challenged Olympic silver medalist David Payne's record of 14.42 seconds. He is currently only two hundredths of a second short with short a 14.44 mark, recorded at the BIG EAST Championships. That effort earned Somerville BIG EAST Most Outstanding Track Performer honors at the conference championship one week after winning the Maury White Award at the Drake Relays as the most outstanding performer there as well.

The other BIG EAST Champion, Finan consistently ran great times in the 5,000 meter race, setting a school record of 13:49.80 at the Polytan Invitational. He displayed great discipline to maintain his composure in the NCAA Final Round of the 5K; finishing 10th against some of the nation's other exceptional collegiate athletes.

Junior Kathy Klump, the women's team NCAA Final Round qualifier and the 2011 BIG EAST Indoor 500 meter Champion had a fantastic year after beating her own personal records almost every time she ran.

Senior Natasha Burse, an NCAA First Round qualifier in the 100 meter dash, 200 meter dash and 4x100 meter relay, was one of the greatest contributors to the team's success as the leading point scorer in every meet this year.

As a group, the women's 4x400 relay (Portis, senior Ashley Arnold, Klump, and junior Aricka Rhodes) had the most impressive performances throughout the outdoor season, breaking the school record at every meet but the Drake Relays.

"Frankly, I was amazed by the 4x4, how they performed," Seaton said. "Watching them maximize their abilities was pretty cool."

Seaton and Schnier both feel their team's overall effort were good and showed togetherness. The individuals were great and exciting, but the team coming together as a whole made the biggest impact. From competition to support, the strength in numbers was visible. Friendship and chemistry ran deep between the two teams after training year round with one another.

"It was more an attitude amongst the team," Seaton said, as she explained how the togetherness came about. "We really want to get some things done. We want to have a good season. We're good athletes. We need to come together as a team. I don't think it was one or two people; I think it was the whole group who had that attitude."

"By in-large, the team had a very positive attitude," Schnier added.

Schnier, like Seaton is very proud of his athletes, but feels they can do more for next season.

"We're in a position to have one the best teams we've ever had and I would say the 2003 team (the Conference USA Championship team) was the best we ever had," Schnier said, when discussing the direction he feels the team is moving in.

"We've have some headliners, five people who went to the first round (of nationals); Chris Littleton who went last year, and Brian Zimmerman who went to the national finals the year before that. So there are seven people who are returning that have been there. In addition, we may have had the best recruiting class we've ever had. So we're restocking ourselves with that. Finally, most people are back from last year."

"I really feel that we're just starting," Seaton said. "I feel like we finally got things in place where there is a confidence level. There is a quality of athlete; there is a good attitude within the team. There is a culture of success now and we want to build on that culture of success."

Both teams have a lot to look forward to next year and loads of potential. In the words of Coach Schnier, "They have to decide to be good." Which simply means doing whatever it takes to be successful and believing it will happen.